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MC School District’s vision: universal preschool

By Chad Hobbs

Kindergarten readiness is just one of the many ways the Meade County School District is setting the bar higher in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As it stands currently, state funding and regulations put serious limitations on who can qualify for preschool programs around the state.

 Director of Student Improvement Gloria Bertrand says that state funded preschool, Kentucky Head Start, primarily serves only children from very high poverty levels and children with developmental delays. “Our vision and what we talked about was we would love to have universal preschool for all four year olds in Meade County,” said Bertrand. “We would love for them to have exposure before they go to kindergarten.”

Last year they asked the Board of Education to have a two day a week kindergarten readiness program that was tuition based for any employees in Meade County that had children who weren’t in preschool but would be going to kindergarten the following year. Part of the pilot was to open it to district employees and their children.

At the regular Board meeting earlier this month, two district employees gave testimony to how great the program has been for their children and what “a blessing it has been.”

“There were two things that we wanted to target with the universal preschool program idea when we went to Dr. Millay,” said Dr. Mark Martin, the Director of Special Ed, Preschool, and Pupil Personnel for Meade County Schools. “Number one is quality staff…number two is financially; the biggest barrier to universal preschool in the state is finances.”

 In regards to staff, Martin said there is a whole market of former and retired teachers that they have found to be interested in this program. Though it doesn’t have to be solely retired teachers, he said it is conducive to them due to the 70 work days a year under this model.

“There are teachers that if they know they’re working Tuesday and Thursday and off Monday and Wednesday, they are willing to work 70 days a year versus working 175 days a year,” he said. “Who better to prepare your child for kindergarten than a former preschool or kindergarten teacher?”

In terms of finances, he said that over the past two school years, Meade County has had $262,000 a year cut by the state from their preschool funding. Hardin County is double that and places like Fayette County and others are triple that.

 He says it was important that this program be self-sustained and not have to lean on the Board of Education and the general fund to finance this program. The pilot program with two employees instructing 20 children is on track to collect $30,000 in tuition this year. Martin says it cost $21,873 to fund the program and staff, putting a plus $8,000 balance in the end under the current model.

The hope is to expand possible to two classrooms of students for the next school year. The $16,000 profit anticipated by doubling the classes would be used to provide $1,000 scholarships to 16 students that fall under the 160 percent poverty level necessary to qualify for state funded preschool.

“We would love, between Head Start and us, to give everyone the chance to come, whether it’s tuition, scholarships or the traditional way of qualifying, through income or disability,” Martin stated. “…If we are going to close gaps, we’ve got to start as early as we can. I appreciate the work of all these ladies and our preschool team.”